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Breaking the mould: meet designer Jimmie Karlsson

In amongst the staid antiques showrooms on Kensington Church Street sit the unapologetically eclectic designs of Jimmie Karlsson. Ella Marshall meets the designer to talk colour, famous fans and why west beats east every time.

Partners in crime: Jimmie Martin Limited is a luxury furniture brand and we have a separate interior design company. My business partner (Martin Nihlmar) and I met in Sweden, 17 years ago; we’re both from Stockholm. We were partners back then, now it’s just business (laughs). We are both hands-on with everything. I act more as a creative director, but while Martin does have a creative input, he deals more with the more practical side of the business. I’m more artistic, he’s more functional.

Breakthrough: Martin and I started out 10 years ago buying vintage and giving it new life. Back then, nobody did that, and now it’s a huge trend! The big moment came when we won a rather large award; Best New Designer UK at the Design Decoration Awards, which I believe we won because we both took things that people were ready to throw out.

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Transformers: We transform our pieces with hand-painted artwork; all of our items are hand-finished and unique. This applies to everything from cushions and lamps, to sculpture and busts. Our thing is to take something existing and make it into a functional art-piece.

Rule-breaker: We don’t have many rules. The only one is to have fun. Interiors can be too serious but I believe it’s acceptable to have fun and to inject your own personality into interiors.

Artist in residence: Between residential and commercial projects, I prefer residential because each project is like painting a picture. Our interiors aren’t that crazy, but people like us because we use colour in a way that they wouldn’t usually have the guts to do themselves.

Crossing over: We started in Shoreditch and were based there for four years. It was a great space, but most of our clientele were based in the west. Also, a lot of the businesses in East London are small and independent and like to stay that way; not necessarily wanting to grow. West London is great in that we see much more diversity in our clients here: from old ladies to Madonna.

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Defining look: Most of our furniture is French-style, so when we introduce something like the mannequin lamps or a sloganed mirror, they get big reactions. Some of our mannequins are vintage and some aren’t; it’s all about the shape and whether or not I can do the right artwork on them. Many assume that old vintage pieces are more expensive, but old doesn’t mean expensive and new doesn’t mean cheap.

Looking ahead: It’s our plan to merge our two companies. We don’t really push our interior design service, we just tend do it when people walk through the door and request it. This year we’ll be designing a café and juice bar in The City and I’ll also be doing a residential project; I’m actually in the process of helping the client find the property first! We’ll also have a pop-up at Urban Art House in Amsterdam from April 9th for three months.

Design hero: Philippe Starck is great. He’s still having fun, breaking rules, pushing boundaries and playing with size, shape, texture, etc. I started as a bellboy at The Sanderson, which of course, is designed by Starke, and that experience really inspired me.

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